Invasive Species at the Aquarium

  • Asian carp are one of the invasive species featured in the exhibits in your local museums. (Photo courtesy of USFWS)

Big, public aquariums spend a lot of money to make fish look like they’re at home in the wild. But lately some aquariums are showing fish that are out of place. The GLRC’s Shawn Allee looks at one aquarium’s effort to give them the spotlight, too:

Transcript

Big, public aquariums spend a lot of money to make fish look like
they’re at home in the wild, but lately some aquariums are showing fish
that are out of place. The GLRC’s Shawn Allee looks at one aquarium’s
effort to give them the spotlight, too:


The federal government’s spending millions to keep Asian Carp out of
the Great Lakes. Biologists worry Asian Carp could devastate the lakes’
ecosystem. Recently, though, several carp were brought within sight of
the Great Lakes, and biologists are happy about it.


Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is on the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s
holding an exhibit of Asian Carp and other alien invasive species.


Curator Kurt Hettinger captured the aquarium’s carp during a trip on an
Illinois river.


“They’re literally jumping, sometimes over the bow of the boat,
sometimes smacking into the side of the boat. I just looked behind me
and was amazed to see all these fish jumping in the wake of the boat, and
to this day, I’m still stunned by this.”


And Hettinger’s more than just stunned. He’s worried.


Asian Carp are an invasive species, basically … pests that crowd out
native fish, and that river where he caught them hooks up to Lake
Michigan.


Again, Asian carp haven’t made it to the Great Lakes, but more than one
hundred and sixty other invasive species have arrived and are breeding
quickly.


One example’s the zebra mussel. At first, scientists worried about how
much money it could cost us. Zebra mussels multiply so fast they can
block pipes that carry cooling water to power plants. But now, we know
the zebra mussel’s disrupting the lakes’ natural food chain.


In other words, invasive species are a huge economic and ecological
nuisance. That’s why the Shedd Aquarium started the exhibit.


“The public I think has seen enough stories about the damages and the
spread and the harmfulness, but those stories are not very often coupled
with solutions.”


That’s ecologist David Lodge. He says the exhibit tries to show how
people spread these species around. Lodge points to one exhibit tank. It
looks like a typical backyard water garden. It’s decked out with a small
fishpond, water lilies, even a little fountain shaped like an angel. It looks
pretty innocent, but Lodge says plants and fish you buy for your own
water garden could be invasive species.


“All those plants and animals that are put outside, then have an
opportunity to spread. Now, it doesn’t happen very often, but with the
number of water gardens, it happens enough so that they are a serious
threat to the spread of species.”


Birds or even a quick flood could move seeds or minnows from your
garden to a nearby lake or river.


The Shedd Aquarium’s not alone in spotlighting invasive species.
Several aquariums and science museums are also getting on board. For example one in
Florida shows how invasive species have infested the Everglades.


Shedd curator George Parsons went far and wide for inspiration.


“I was in Japan last year when we were planning this, and I just
happened to stumble across one of their aquariums and they had an
invasive species exhibit, except that they were talking about large mouth
bass and blue gill. You know, something that is our natives. So, it was
kind of ironic to see that out there. It was kind of neat.”


Like us, the Japanese take invasive species seriously. Back in 1999 the
humble Midwestern Blue Gill created a national uproar. Turns out, they
had taken over ponds throughout the Emperor’s palace, and how did the
bluegill get to Japan?


Probably as a gift from a former Chicago mayor. Apparently, the mayor
thought blue gill might make nice sport fishing in Japan. It was an
innocent mistake, but it’s just the kind of mishap biologists want all of us
to avoid from now on.


For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.

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‘Land Bank’ Reinvests in Inner City

  • Heavy cleanup crews from the Genesee County Land Bank use chain saws, wood chippers, tractors and brute force to move piles of debris on the lot of an abandoned house on the north side of Flint, Michigan. (Photo by Chris McCarus)

One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes. Those problems have led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:

Transcript

One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes.
They’ve led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the
community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up
properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:


(sound of work crews operating wood chipper)


Cleanup crews are sending downed branches through a wood chipper on a vacant lot.
They’re also removing tires, used diapers, car seats, sinks, old clothes and dead animal carcasses.
The workers are from the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint, Michigan. They’re trying to
make abandoned property useful again. Dan Kildee is the Genesee County Treasurer and the brains
behind the land bank. He thinks this new approach can recover unpaid property tax money and help
improve the Flint Metro area.


“The community gets to make a judgment on what we think we should do with this land. We get
to take a deep breath.”


Empty lots and rundown homes have been multiplying for a generation. That’s left the city of
Flint in a terrible economic state. But the land bank is beginning to change things.


Until just three years ago, Michigan was like most other states. No one had come up with
a solution. The state would auction off a city’s tax liens. Then conflict between the tax
lien buyer and the property owner could go on for up to seven years. In the meantime,
properties were left to neglect and often vandalized.


Under this new program, the treasurer’s office forecloses on a property and hands it over
to the land bank, which acts as the property manager. The land bank might then demolish
a house; it might throw out the owner and let a tenant buy it; or it might auction it off
to the highest bidder. A private investor can’t just buy a tax lien. He has to buy the
property along with it and take care of it.


The land bank is financed in two main ways: through fees on back taxes and through sales
of the few nicer homes or buildings the land bank acquires that bring in relatively big
profits. Treasurer Dan Kildee says it makes sense to take that revenue to fix up old
properties and sell them to people who deserve them.


“There is no system in the United States that pulls together these tools. Both the
ability to quickly assemble property into single ownership of the county, the tools
to manage it and the financing tools to develop that property.”


The land bank program hopes to change the perception of Flint. As thousands of abandoned
homes, stores and vacant lots become eyesores, people and their money go other places,
usually to build more sprawling suburbs. The perception that people are abandoning the
inner city then speeds up that abandonment. Many people who can afford to leave the city do.
And those who can’t afford to move are left behind.


According to data gathered by the research group Public Sector Consultants, Flint has the
state’s highest unemployment and crime rates and the lowest student test scores.


Art Potter is the land bank’s director. He thinks the downward spiral can be stopped.
When it is, those folks in the central city won’t have to suffer for still living there.


“Even though the City of Flint has lost 70,000 people in the last 30 years, the people who
are still here deserve to have a nice environment to live in. So our immediate goal is to
get control and to clean these properties now.”


Urban planning experts are watching the land bank approach. Michigan State
University’s Rex LaMore says Flint is typical of Midwestern cities whose manufacturing
base has shrunk. Private owners large and small have left unproductive property behind.
As the land bank steps in, LaMore says it’s likely to succeed and become an example that
other municipalities can follow.


“They can begin to maybe envision a city of the 21st century that will be different than
the cities of the 20th century or the 19th century that we see around the United States.
A city that reflects a more livable environment. So its an exciting opportunity. I think
we have the vision; the challenge is can we generate the resources? And the land bank model
does provide some opportunity to do that.”


But the land bank is meeting obstacles. For example, the new mayor of Flint who took over
in July canceled the city’s existing contracts. A conservative businessman, the mayor is
suspicious of the city’s past deals. They included one with the land bank to demolish 57
homes. This has slowed the land bank’s progress. Its officials are disappointed but they’re
still working with the mayor to get the money released.


(sound of kids chatting, then lawn mower starts up)


The weeds grow rampant in a neighborhood with broken up pavement and sometimes
no houses on an entire block. It’s open and in an odd way, peaceful. Like a
century-old farm. It’s as if the land has expelled the people who invaded with their bricks,
steel and concrete.


In the middle of all the vacant lots, Katherine Alymo sees possibilities.


“I’ve bought a number of properties in the auctions from the land bank and also got a side
lot acquisition from them for my house. My driveway wasn’t attached to my house when I
bought it. And it was this huge long process to try to get it from them. But they sold it
to me for a dollar. Finally.”


And since then, she’s hired people to fix the floors, paint walls and mow the lawns.
She’s also finding buyers for her properties who want to invest in the city as she has.
Together, they say they needed some help and the land bank is making that possible.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris McCarus.


(lawn mower fades out)

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Rust Belt City Desires High Tech Future

  • Wheels are turning both in young minds and innovative transportation. Both could help revive the Rust Belt. (Photo by Max Eggeling)

The loss of traditional manufacturing jobs has hit Great Lakes states hard in recent years. But some business owners believe they are on the cusp of creating a new type of manufacturing base. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant spent some time in one community that’s discussing how new businesses can provide a foundation for the future:

Transcript

The loss of traditional manufacturing jobs has hit Great Lakes states hard in recent
years. But some business owners believe they are on the cusp of creating a new type of
manufacturing base. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant spent some time in
one community that’s discussing how new businesses can provide a foundation for the
future:


Not long ago, there were lots of good-paying factory jobs in northeast Ohio. But the state
has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs in the past four years. Some business people and
academics are trying to shape a new economy for the region. Their efforts could be
symbolized by a little bird…


“I need a Sparrow, I need it…”


A sparrow is an electrically charged three-wheel motorcycle that’s fully covered in steel.
It looks like a tear drop… or maybe a gym shoe. David Ackerman isn’t sure if he’d pick
one in bright orange…


“…but look, there it goes, look at it go! Is that the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen? I
love it! It’s like something out of “sleeper.” But it’s very sleek and cool and futuristic…
Does it really go 70? Yeah, it goes 70….”


While Ohio and other Midwestern states might have a tough time competing globally in
the steel market, some economists believe innovative transportation is one way Ohio
could build a foundation for a new economy. The state has put millions of dollars into
fuel cell research, Honda is building hybrid cars in central Ohio, and newer companies
are working to make auto engines cleaner and more efficient.


Some of those business owners gathered with people from the community to discuss how
transportation technology could be part of the region’s future. Bob Chalfant of a
company called Comsense spoke on the panel. He says the technology they’re
developing could have a huge impact…


“…the benefits to Cleveland are jobs. We figure the total market for pressure sensors for
combustion applications is about 2.2 billion dollars.”


Chalfant’s company expects to create 2,000 jobs in Cleveland. But if businesses like
Comsense are going to girder the area’s new economy, they’re going to need educated
employees for their high tech manufacturing jobs. The problem is, many young educated
folks are leaving the Midwest.


Meredith Matthews is a public school teacher in inner city Cleveland. She says they’re
trying to train students for these kinds of jobs, but they need direction from these new
companies…


“I teach in the third world known as the Cleveland Public Schools. I’m introducing
myself, so that if anybody needs kids, we got ’em. If you want to stop by and talk to me,
I’ll show you how to get kids, I’ll show you how to get in the door.”


Local universities and community colleges already have some research and training in
fuel cell technology. But mechanic Phil Lane looks at Cleveland’s poverty rate, the
highest among all big cities in the nation, and wants these companies to start training kids
even younger…


“We need to grab kids in the second and third grade, particularly in the very bad
neighborhoods, before the neighborhood can get to the kid. That’s what we really need to
do.”


Lane says training poor children early would provide a real foundation for a new
economy in Cleveland. Many communities that have lost their job base are starting
similar conversations and searching for ways to fit in to the global marketplace.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.

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